NASHVILLE SKYLINE: Willie Nelson as Pot Scapegoat?

It's Way Past Time to Legalize Marijuana

(NASHVILLE SKYLINE is a column by CMT/CMT.com Editorial Director Chet Flippo.)

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Willie Nelson was one of the first celebrities to hold a fundraising benefit for the victims. He also mobilized Farm Aid’s resources to aid Gulf Coast farmers in distress, and he was quick to take part in several other benefits, including one in New Orleans organized by Arlo Guthrie.

Now, the state of Louisiana rewards Willie Nelson for his good deeds for disaster relief by busting him for a relatively small amount of marijuana (well, a pound and a-half of weed is brunch and dinner for Willie, I can testify, as a sometime Willie bus passenger) and for a few ounces of mushrooms (no doubt intended for Saturday night’s spaghetti supper on the bus).

You know, this is just plain silly. Seems to me that America’s war on drugs has become as phony and ineffective and clueless and pointless and endless as its war in Iraq.

This was an easy bust, a career-boosting, gold-star-rating, guaranteed AP story kind of bust for an ambitious, Dudley Do-Right state trooper. Willie’s bus is very recognizable, and anybody who doesn’t know that Willie takes a little toke every now and then must live in a backward state.

Is this really the face of the war on drugs? There are a lot of people sitting in stir and doing serious time for small-time marijuana possession. Over the last two decades or so, I’ve known several decent guys who went off to prison in Texas for small amounts of marijuana.

I think what most people would rather see is major busts of crack factories and meth labs, the sources for the serious drugs that are truly crippling America’s inner city and heartland youth. But those busts are harder to get. We’re not seeing those. Those are hard work. The Dudley Do-Rights might get their creased trooper uniforms dirty, trying to bust sleazy crackheads and meth freaks. And politicians would get no headlines or photo ops out of those difficult tasks.

Even Johnny Knoxville has weighed in on this matter, declaring, “He [Willie] gets arrested in Louisiana for weed? I mean, if he’s not singing a benefit for Louisiana or for the farmers, he’s singing a song about the city of New Orleans — and they bust him for weed? He should have rolling fields of marijuana to harvest at any time. Leave Willie alone, man. … Let Willie smoke.”

Not that Johnny Knoxville is the voice of a thoughtful nation, by any means, but I know his family from when I lived in Knoxville, Tenn., and his father regularly worked on my Jeep at his car repair shop, R.T. Clapp Car Center, and I know that such families are the backbone of the heartland. Their voices should be heard, and I know that’s where Johnny’s values were formed. The city of Knoxville is conservative territory, but it’s also territory where individual freedom and liberty are still championed. And I think Johnny’s grassroots opinion on this matter is that of most down-to-earth people.

I will tell you what, and you can bank on this: In the long run, marijuana is by far among the least of the threats facing this nation. Legalize it. And minimize it.

That will neutralize it. You won’t see any more fish hooks dangling at eye level in state and national parks where the renegade weed growers hide their crops and try to maim or trap and then kill trespassers. You won’t see any more deadly, sharpened and poisonous punji sticks guarding those same illicit marijuana patches. You won’t see any more worthless, vicious thugs running the underground smoke trade — because there won’t be any underground smoke trade. Instead, we’ll have state or national government-administered smoke shops run by the usual inefficient, bumbling, corrupt civil servants. Unless they turn it over to Starbucks.

My old friend Kinky Friedman, the next governor of Texas, has called for the legalization of marijuana, saying “We’ve pretty well lost the war on drugs doing it the way we’re doing it.” Kinky’s not a user, but he’s a realist. And I think that’s the issue. Chasing smokers is a waste of time, money and law enforcement resources. There’s little to show for it, except trophy busts such as Willie’s. Legalize it and neutralize it and therefore make it middle class and unhip.

Look at Amsterdam. The legal cannabis coffee shops there are really safe … and kind of boring. That’s why dope really is dope.

Transform marijuana into your father’s boring little indulgence or into your wise old grandfather Willie’s harmless afternoon smoke and no teenager will be attracted to the illicit lure of a glamorous, banned substance. No danger and no risk equal no thrill.